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Why I Can't Stop Playing... Half-Life 2

Why can't all games be as good as this one?

A year after destroying all except Bungie's infamous shooter on Xbox, Half-Life 2 is still embarrassing 99 per cent of the genre. There's no denying the original was a masterpiece, and they're usually the ones that are hard to truly top, but somehow Valve managed to raise the bar even higher with the sequel.

Before Valve coughed up confirmation that it would release the sci-fi shooter on Bill's box, everyone said that it couldn't be done (the same was said of Doom 3). And when we say everyone, we really mean all those PC spods that forked out a grand on their set-ups just to get it running.

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Why spend a fortune when a £100 Xbox and £40 game would do the trick just fine? Okay, it gets a bit jerky here and there but so what? It's not enough of a problem to make me go out and spend a grand fixing it. I get to lie on my bed playing it too, and you can't do that with a PC!

Half-Life 2 doesn't look like any other shooter - or game - out there. Not once are you firing your way through a generic spaceship level or forest level or even training level; everything about it looks unique, wrapped up in its own superb style. And it's this design that makes it stand out from the countless other futuristic shooters out there.

Take from it what you want. Let the story and setting suck you in and mess with your head if you're that kind of gamer. If you're oblivious to any form of attempted story telling in a game, or if you believe games can't tell a story any better than a two year-old can read one, then just enjoy shooting shit up. Me? I like a bit of both, but lean more towards shooting shit up. But that's just me.

As you progress deeper and deeper into the world, the gameplay changes to challenge you. The constant shooting never grates as it's broken up by driving or puzzle sections and the incredible physics engine and Gravity Gun allow for some genius moments of play that actually make you think you're cleverer than you really are - it's been designed that well!

Sitting at my desk with those cool earplug type headphones that block out the outside world (perfect for London), it becomes clear just how atmospheric the game is. All sorts of weird noises creep in and out of my head that'll leave a mess for the office cleaners later on.

But no game is perfect and the lack of ANY multiplayer game or option to download Episode One (now out on PC, with Episode Two out early next year) is disturbing. They're all coming out on 360 anyway but by then we'll have hammered the single-player game into the ground.

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Play.com peddles Valve's second consecutive masterpiece for £29.99 ( a tenner off the original price) but we're sure you'll be able to pick it up much cheaper from the second hand section of any good games shop. Failing that, eBay's always a good back-up plan. Whatever the price, if you haven't saved the world Freeman-style, you're missing out on one of the best experiences on Xbox. If you've have, do it again. On Hard. I am.

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